In May, I felt so far removed from the actual mountains that I began doing what I swear I wouldn’t do: read about other people’s snowboarding adventures. Moreover, I didn’t want to care what pros did: my snow life was my snow life, and what mine looked like had little to do with what I perceived to be a mass produced culture made to appeal to everybody and their grandma. Yeah, no-pros are awesome, and I’ve got nothing on them, other than spirit-wise, so anything other than spirit reading was going to irrelevant reading that would be better spent actually doing something. But what do you know? The English major side of me got the better of me and the wallpaper browsing and I went on for a ride.
Good thing writers have poetic license.
Evening slid into dusk. Breaking ice chittered and catcalled through the forest. A cold chill seemed to have taken ahold of his core and the regret of not choosing to shoot in the streets put his nerves on end. He readily admitted that it wasn’t just the forest that was jittery-it was him.
“Here. In thirty.” A strobe light blinded him. The ever deepening fatigue in his legs protested, but he knew he had not a second to waste. Each second lost stole from the precious few he had to steel himself atop the shaky mount. For the thirtieth time, closed his eyes, then reopened them with a blank stare. “Drop!”
He did. The wind rushed past him, feeling raw, feeling new, as if it were his first time. No matter how many times he did this, the kinks in the branch always seemed to come up before his knowing. Before he knew what had happened he had once again shifted off course and keeled into the snow. A bitter laugh stopped in his throat. The camera man, not the fall, had shoved snow down his neck. He had slid right next to him. He felt his eyes on him as he unstrapped and shakily planted his boots into the only flat areas of snow in the trenches that he could find.
“Was any of it good?” he asked in a threadbare voice. He hadn’t had anything to drink throughout the entire session. It was starting to pull some of the life from him.
“I don’t know.” The photographer’s voice was gruff. “I’ll need to work on it in photoshop to see.”
I don’t know. That was how he felt. An uncertain version of himself, one that was was cheap, an imitation, a scruff. Perhaps he shouldn’t have come in with the confidence that he did. There was more to what he didn’t know than he could ever guess. And he thought he could have boosted his confidence. Well, his brain was delusional. It figured.
At the end of this, he thought as he helped the photographer with his gear, he might have a few shots that were worth nothing, as they were shooting stills. Or he might squeak by as he always had in life and win the winning five hundred dollar cover photo contest prize money. There was only one thing for certain. He was out of cash. There was nothing warming itself in the bank and certainly nothing warming itself on the cold coil of his father’s heart. Snowboarding was the only thing that he had paid for, and was still free for him to access.
Rich man’s sport, he reflected, almost gingerly. All he liftees he knew were poor. All the riders he rode with regularly were poor. Did snowboarding make them poor? Or had they just been poor with richer dreams than the next guy? Did it matter?
He assessed the lens he now held in his hand. A couple hundred dollars? A month’s worth of the cheapest rent?
No, he stopped himself, forcing a inward smile. I might be in one of the winning photos with which this was used.
That decided it-the $500. A split between the photographer and rider. 50/50, just like the trick, because a balance of rider and photographer talent was key. One good shot was all they needed.
His photographer had insisted, whiningly, that he could only take good shots in the trees. It was not the best because he himself was accustomed to the street, the way most poor kids learned to ride. In their backyards. But his photographer didn’t know how to compose electric photos in tired looking landscapes that were every landscaper’s nightmare. He’s a one trick pony, he realized bitterly. Just like me.
“Hey.” The photographer had turned his eyes on him. For the first time he could properly assess him. The whirlwind that had led them to this last minute setup still left him feeling dazed in his mind. “Be careful with that. You almost ran the lens with the razor edge of your snowboard.”
He almost let aloud his laugh. Razor edge? He’d detuned his to be his trick pony. What’s more, he highly doubted the photography nut, who had money for hundreds of dollars for equipment, would miss a few. “You betcha, I’ll be more careful.” He was careful not to raise his laughing, judgeful eyes. Caught on camera-that would just be great. With each malicious thought he felt his hunger and fatigue fading.
“Hey, look, it’s late,” he started experimentally.
The photographer looked up, his thin strawy hair ablaze in the strobe light.
“It’s almost night. I booked out of class to come here for you. How does treating me to dinner sound?”
The photographer opened his mouth, eyes wavering, was it fear that he saw? Immediately his indignant outlook hardened, sensing he was about to worm out of it.
“I..I can’t,” the photographer said, sounding remorseful but with eyes that didn’t match-eyes full of fear. “I have plans. Deadline-dependent plans.”
“Oh yeah?” He stood up, brushing the snow off his pants and knowing he would tower over him, spread his body so as to loom over him. “I broke mine to come to you. I said I’d rather do the shoot in the streets. I’d say it were a fair trade off.”
“No…no…I can’t!” In the process of damning his excusing demeanor he had backed away, all his equipment in hand. Like a reversed turtle with his shell upon his front he curled around his equipment, seeming larger with the bulk, but ever more small. “Bye! I have to go now! I’ll keep in touch!”
He was never sure what happened next. The anger that he had just barely managed to tamper down exploded like an avalanche. The next thing he knew he had the photographer by his shoulders and the equipment had jumped out of his hands and onto the ground. “Look, is it so much to ask for?” I will make you know how I feel. “I’m always the one making sacrifices to come to you. We’re supposed to be a team! If we have a dinner then at least maybe we could have a chance at collaborating! And for a poor snowboarder that’s all we dream!”
The poor photographer’s shoulders started to shake. His body went limp in his arms. Surprised, awaiting a lash out, he felt a slight pang of fear of his own rage and let go. The last thing he needed was jail time for violence he didn’t intend to fully commit, nor the confirmation that his wild spirit and violent nature were one and the same.
“I’m s-so-sorry!” the photographer cried over and over again. “I-I’d g-go if I c-could! S-stop!”
The snowboarder side of him wanted to just leave him, come back tomorrow morning, and ride the bump that his body formed in the snow. But there were his photos on the line, and besides, it made him uncomfortable, he was uncomfortable with the way he had treated him.
“Don’t say sorry,” he offered noncommittally. “And stop crying.” That, if any, was ever a helpful comment in awkward situations. Lay your hands off him and he’ll stop!
But he didn’t. The photographer refused to stop crying, amped it up even, until he was blubbering like a baby. He started to feel a bit of the old anger again, simmering, not yet reaching a boiling point but ready at any moment too, felt the good old hunger pains incoming again. “I need you to drive me to the main road,” he said, apparently to the dead cold air. “There’s got to be a bus, I know there is.”
As if by chance the photographer picked himself up. Strangely enough he found himself staring at an extended hand. As if the proffered hand were a snake, he looked at it from both ways before committing to touching it. Had he just had a handshake with him? Who did handshakes nowadays?
“Edward,” Edward said, his voice warbling like a bird’s. “Ned for short.”
After a few awkward pumps, he surveyed the carnage of photo equipment on the ground and speedily let go of his hand to help Ned scoop it up. Ned nodded gratefully. “Tyler.” He didn’t meet Ned in the eyes. If he saw his face, he would probably see that he was burning. “Ty.” He hadn’t once thought of getting his name, unless it was on his business card. He was just ‘the photographer’. He never referred to him as anything else to his friends.
“Tyler.” Ned had cleared his throat and spoke a little stronger. “I would like to offer you an apology. The truth is, I can’t come because I have a promise to make good. But it’s not my fault that I have to make that promise.” He wet his lips. Something glistened in his eyes but he wiped it away. “My dad is a compulsive gambler and we’re out of money. He’s going to jail tonight. Unless I bail him.”
The night air was now complete with darkness except for Ned’s strobe and the main run lights. But the stillness was undisturbed, save for their breath. For what had been a long day, the last dregs of it seemed to last forever, refusing to end. Eventually he was aware of their breathing that was like a metronome in the night. Pulsing. Waiting.
“I..am…sorry,” he responded, as if the words were being punched out of awkward card. Each word felt like an unripe potato that refused to dislodge from its root. The snowboard, his gear, felt awkward on his body and in his hands, as if suddenly he wasn’t protected by it from it all, but encumbered by it, stupid.
After all, his father hadn’t really meant it. He still felt the grind of his newly healed ribs with each movement. With the slight movement the fear that had flashed through him-the fervour he’d felt for the chance to live-reignited. Three months later and Tyler had still not been able to forgive. The fit of anger that his father had had that resulted in him pushing him off the balcony did not budge or respond to treatment. He was lucky he had fallen onto the railing below and broken a rib instead. He could have died.
But it was an accident. Now he knew. Were Ned on a balcony a few minutes ago Tyler had no doubt his arms would have pushed until they fatigued-with strength he did not know he had-and stopped at nothing. Angry enough his father could have thrown himself over the balcony, not realizing he’d die, and continued to pummel him down below.
Once again the uneasiness arose within him but he felt able, ready to tamp it down. We are the same. It was time to stop running away, time to return to his family. I am not broke, or broken, Tyler thought. I do not have to run away from home when some people-Ned-have no other way. (to be continued…not)